Family welcomes Tankleff back to Long Island


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9:19 PM EST, December 27, 2007

Out of prison for the first time in 17 years, Martin Tankleff tasted freedom -- literally -- at a post-release soiree where loved ones caught up on old times and speculated about his future.

At the Westbury home of his cousins, Ronald and Carol Falbee, Tankleff munched on finger sandwiches, roasted chicken breast, mixed greens, crackers and fruit, saying that the post-prison fare was much more palatable than the chow he had been fed behind bars.

"It's definitely better," he said, nodding, smiling and looking relaxed in a white button-down shirt, having shed the gray pullover sweater he wore to the court proceeding before Judge Stephen L. Braslow in Riverhead earlier in the day.

He greeted old friends and received new ones and guests with a firm handshake, a smile and a steady gaze. He sat back on the couch relaxed, flanked by supporters, and made occasional trips to the buffet table where the spread of hors d'oeuvres and sweets, including brownies, awaited.

Tankleff's attorneys advised the former Belle Terre man, who may still stand trial for murder, not to exchange much more than pleasantries with journalists.

Dozens of reporters and photographers set up camp outside the Falbees' Tudor-style house, the home where Tankleff lived when he was free on bail before his 1990 conviction for the murder of his parents.

Arlene and Seymour Tankleff were attacked on Sept. 7, 1988. Martin Tankleff, then 17, confessed to police -- and then recanted. He was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and was released on bail until his trial in 1990, where a jury convicted him of the crimes.

Tankleff was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

But Thursday, six days after a state appellate panel overturned that conviction, Tankleff walked out of Suffolk County Court a free man, at least for now.

Inside the Falbee home, the mood was festive as about two dozen of Tankleff's closest relatives, attorneys, friends and some acquaintances expressed relief and comforted one another for supporting Tankleff from the moment he was suspected in one of Long Island's most notorious crimes.

"We're just happy he's out," said Ronald Falbee, who was host of the event he said was planned in 48 hours. "We're just happy we got to this point."

Tankleff, who was the center of attention, used the time to get familiar with the latest electronic gadgets.

He held up a cell phone, receiving congratulations from well-wishers on the line. He even set up an e-mail account on a laptop computer equipped with a wireless Internet connection, where he dabbled with search engines and other things he hasn't had a chance to use since he went to prison.

Playfully, he maneuvered the mouse and said he was looking up stuff posted about his own private investigator, Jay Salpeter of Great Neck, who gathered the evidence that led to Tankleff's release yesterday.

"I want to see if I got it right," Tankleff quipped, referring to his research.

Earlier in the day, shortly before 12:30 p.m., a black Range Rover pulled up to the Falbee home, and Tankleff emerged from the front passenger seat into a light rain as a throng of photographers clamored to get more photos of him.

He grinned meekly as reporters and photographers peppered him with, "How ya feeling, buddy?" and the simple, "Welcome home."

The Falbees ushered Tankleff into their Parkway Drive house, but he didn't speak.

Later, inside the house, Tankleff's uncle from California, Michael McClure, reviewed some of the repartee last October between the appellate judges and Tankleff's attorneys with Lonnie Soury, a Manhattan publicist who has been working with Tankleff throughout his attempts to be freed over the past several years.

"This is Marty's day," said Robert Gottlieb, of Manhattan and Huntington, who represented Tankleff at his 1990 trial. "And he deserves it."

Staff writer Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this story.